the complex of stories, lore, and beliefs about the gods and the nature of the cosmos developed by the Germanic-speaking peoples before their conversion to Christianity. Germanic culture at various times extended from the Black Sea across central Europe and Scandinavia to Iceland and Greenland. The conversion to Christianity in continental Europe in the early 4th century was so thorough that practically all indigenous religious tradition was eradicated. However, the conversion of the Scandinavian countries in the late 10th century allowed a significant amount of information concerning the religion and mythology of the pre-Christian Germanic peoples to survive. Of particular importance are the writings in Old Norse of medieval Iceland, where there seems to have been an antiquarian revival. The literary sources of this isolated outpost of Germanic culture provide much of what is now known about Germanic religion. Old Norse verse forms, both Eddic and skaldic, are considered to be especially valuable because the conservative nature of their poetic structures facilitated the survival of ancient elements of Germanic myth and legend. The Poetic Edda (c. 1270) contains two classes of archaic materials: the mythological poems, which give a splendid picture of the ancient gods, wisdom, and lore, and the lays of the traditional Germanic heroes. Skaldic poetry, known for its complicated alliterative structure and numerous allusions to myth in the form of complex metaphors known as kennings, is an extremely reliable source, albeit very difficult to interpret. The Prose Edda (c. 1220), written by Snorri Sturluson, gives a rendition of the cosmogony and numerous tales of the adventures of the gods in their struggle against the race of the giants and the powers of chaos. However, any interpretation of the work must take into account obvious Christian influence as well as the author's further manipulation and distortion of his source materials. Because of the variety of surviving source materials on Germanic mythology, accounts of the myths are frequently conflicting. The cosmology of the Poetic Edda tells of the time of a mighty void known as Ginnungagap. Elements of heat from the south merged with northern forces of cold to produce a mighty primeval giant, Ymir. In Snorri's version of the cosmology, a cow, Audumla, nourished Ymir. As Audumla licked a block of salt, a man emerged, Buri, who became the ancestor of the first gods, Odin and his two brothers. These gods killed Ymir and constructed the universe from his body. The gods then created the first man and woman from pieces of wood. The heavenly Asgard was the home of the new race of gods, while humankind inhabited Midgard. Both of these worlds were surrounded by a mighty ocean in which lived the evil world serpent. Yggdrasil, the world tree, stood at the central point of this world of gods and mortals. The Germanic pantheon can be divided into two groupsthe Aesir, heroic gods who reflect the culture of a warrior aristocracy, and the Vanir, gods involved in the concerns of a settled agricultural society. Chief among the Aesir was Odin. Odin was the god of poetry, having stolen the sacred mead of poetic inspiration from the world of the giants. Odin was also a god of the sacred runes and occult wisdom, as well as of battle and warrior heroes. He loved battle for its own sake, arbitrarily sponsoring and then abandoning his chosen heroes. To die in battle was a desirable fate, assuring the warriors rebirth in Odin's heaven, Valhalla, where they would fight, die, and rise again until the time of Ragnark, when they would fall finally along with their patron god. Next to Odin in importance in the Germanic pantheon stood Thor. Thor's cult was extensive. He emerges in the literature as the chief defender of the gods and of humans against the evil forces of the giants and chaos. The image of his hammer became a common talisman in the northern world. Thor was associated with thunder and lightning and, by extension, with rain and fertility. Loki is a baffling god who was continually present among the Aesir, although not really one of them. He played tricks on them but aided them as well. Loki was responsible for the death of Balder, Odin's beautiful and innocent son, and Loki was the adversary of Heimdall, another beautiful and noble but obscure deity, who is depicted as the watchman of the gods. In the eschatological mythology of Ragnark, Loki and his monstrous children are placed on the side of the forces of destruction of the world of gods and human beings. The Vanir gods, subordinate to the Aesir, were responsible for ensuring fertility and prosperity. Njrd, seen by many scholars as a masculinization of the older fertility goddess, Nerthus, is depicted as a god of the sea and of riches and prosperity. His son, Freyr, was also a god of fertility who is described in several sources as the ancestor of the line of Swedish kings. His sister, Freyja, was a goddess not only of love and fertility but also of a primitive form of magic, seiyr, which she is said to have taught to Odin and the Aesir. Although the medieval literary sources provide a wealth of mythological materials, truly reliable information concerning actual religious practices and beliefs is meagre. From the little information that has survived, it seems that, during the later stages of its development, the nature of Germanic religion was twofold. For the most part it was clan-oriented and directed toward concerns of luck and prosperity. In addition, it was characterized by a close personal relationship between the individual and his personal god or guardian spirit. The guardian spirits of Germanic religion were often as important as the deities. The dsir, for example, were clan-oriented female ancestral guardians who brought prosperity to their worshipers and who were propitiated at elaborate, private sacrificial banquets held at the beginning of the winter season. complex of stories, lore, and beliefs about the gods and the nature of the cosmos developed by the Germanic-speaking peoples before their conversion to Christianity. Germanic culture extended, at various times, from the Black Sea to Greenland, or even the North American continent. Germanic religion played an important role in shaping the civilization of Europe. But since the Germanic peoples of the Continent and of England were converted to Christianity in comparatively early times, it is not surprising that less is known about the gods whom they used to worship and the forms of their religious cults than about those of Scandinavia, where Germanic religion survived until relatively late in the Middle Ages. Additional reading Jacob Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, 4 vol. (188388, reprinted 1976; originally published in German, 4th ed., 3 vol., 187578), is still a most valuable source. Jan de Vries, Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte, 2nd ed., 2 vol. (195657, reprinted 1970), is a thorough account of Germanic heathendom in Scandinavia, Germany, and England. Georges Dumzil, Gods of the Ancient Northmen (1973; originally published in French, 1959), offers a short account of German mythology based on the author's view of the Indo-European heritage in Germanic religion. R.L.M. Derolez, De godsdienst der Germanen (1959), surveys the gods and myths, with special attention to runic inscriptions; there is also a French translation, Les Dieux et la religion des Germains (1962), and a German translation, Gtter und Mythen der Germanen (1963, reissued 1976). Gabriel Turville-Petre, Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia (1964, reprinted 1975), gives a comprehensive account of Norse myth and religious practice. A.V. Strm and Haralds Biezais, Germanische und baltische Religion (1975), encompasses the whole development from prehistoric times to the conversion to Christianity, with somewhat controversial interpretations. Rgis Boyer, La Religion des anciens Scandinaves: Yggdrasill (1981), an original survey, covers the topic from the Bronze Age petroglyphs to the saga religion but is somewhat marred by inaccuracies. Rudolf Simek, Lexikon der germanischen Mythologie (1984), is well documented and contains reliable information. John Lindow, Scandinavian Mythology: An Annotated Bibliography (1988), is excellent.Robert J. Glendinning and Haraldur Bessason (eds.), Edda: A Collection of Essays (1983), provides valuable insight. The best English version remains Lee M. Hollander (trans.), The Poetic Edda, 2nd ed. rev. (1962, reprinted 1986). For Snorri's presentation of Scandinavian mythology, the major source is Snorri Sturluson, Gylfaginning, ed. by Gottfried Lorenz (1984), with a substantial commentary in German. The best edition of the Germania by Cornelius Tacitus is the annotated German translation by Allan A. Lund (1988); for an English edition, see the translation by M. Hutton (1970) in the Loeb Classical Library, Latin Authors series. An essay on early Germanic religion in the context of ancient Germanic culture can be found in Edgar C. Polom, Germantum und religiose Vorstellungen, in Heinrich Beck (ed.), Germanenprobleme in heutiger Sicht (1986), pp. 267297. Edgar Charles Polom

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